Side effects: the true cost of rising Rx prices

Prices for many prescription drugs, including generics increased exponentially over the past few years, up to 12,100 percent in at least one case.

Prices for many prescription drugs, including generics increased exponentially over the past few years, up to 12,100 percent in at least one case. A 12News investigation revealed the true cost of those rising costs, something Beaumont mother Tiffany Underwood experienced firsthand.

"That's very important to come in and feel confident," Underwood said, describing why her daughter Taylor started taking medication to treat acne.

She soon learned confidence comes with a price.

"We were actually spending well over $350 a month just for medication," said Underwood.

That's just a drop in the bucket compared to what tetracycline users pay. The antibiotic often used to treat acne went from 7 cents a pill in 2012 up to $8.54 a pill now - a more than 12,000 percent increase. Doxycycline hyclate is another example; it went up nearly 1,700 percent from 6 cents a pill to $1.00.

However, acne meds are far from the only type of prescription to see this surge in price. Niacin, used to treat high blood pressure, is 4,100 times more expensive now than in 2012. Cancer drug methotrexate shot up 283 percent.

"In the past year, I'd say generics have shot up hundreds of times their original price, so that a person taking a drug that cost 6 to 8 cents a pill, now it's $8 to $10 a pill," said Dr. Sharon Marchand, a Beaumont dermatologist.

She said she sees the effect of the price hike from both the doctor and patient perspectives.

"You've gone through the exam. You've discussed treatment options with patients. Then you tell them, 'What I'm going to do is prescribe to you what I would like to have were I afflicted with this process, then when you call me to tell me it's $1,800, we'll come up with Plan B,'" Dr. Marchand said.

Patients aren't the only ones getting hit with sticker shock, though; insurance companies sometimes send prescriptions back to the doctor in what's called a "prior auth."

"You basically have to prove yourself as a physician and talk the insurance company into believing the decision you made was what the patient needed," said Dr. Marchand.

"They want to know when, why, where, when and how. What did you treat them with before? Why do you need this drug? Why can't you use this other drug?" explained Dr. Michael Nash with Baptist Hospitals of Southeast Texas. "There's a lot of wheel spinning. That's a lot of lost productivity."

Dr. Nash, an oncologist at the Julie and Ben Rogers Cancer Center, said even if an insurance company OKs a drug he prescribes, there's no guarantee the patient will be able to afford it.

"Last week, I was talking to a patient who needs a drug that can offer her some significant benefit, but she was making real decisions about do I pay the light bill or get this medication?" Dr. Nash said.

It's a horrifying choice for a cancer patient, one most doctors try to avoid.

"We take an oath. We take the Hippocratic Oath," said Dr. Marchand. "Part of that is that we're not just doctors, we're patient advocates. So like it or not, you have to get resourceful at trying to come up with ways to help our patients."

Dr. Nash said he works to get those patients on assistance programs, while Dr. Marchand said she relies heavily on coupons and rebates.

"Those are extraordinarily tedious and they change constantly," she said.

Marchand recommended two websites for consumers: GoodRx and BlinkHealth. GoodRx shops pharmacies for you and provides you with coupon or discount options. BlinkHealth, meanwhile, allows you to search a prescription, get a discount, pay for the prescription online, then pick it up at the pharmacy of your choice.

Both Dr. Nash and Dr. Marchand told 12News they're frustrated by the lack of justification for the cost increases.

"Some of it is just difficult to explain," said Dr. Nash. "Why has a drug that's been generic for 20 years quadrupled in price?"

For example, the FDA approved doxazosin to treat blood pressure in 1990, but it shot up 880 percent in the past four years.

"There's no rhyme or reason to it sometimes," Dr. Nash said. "It affects us all because taxpayers, for Medicare and Medicaid, we foot the bill for some of these drugs."

For the time being, all local doctors can do is watch and wait to see how much higher some of the prices will go as patients keep shelling out more to stay healthy.

"Unfortunately, I just had to suck it up because I wanted that for my daughter, but the average person really can't do that. You just can't. It's expensive," Underwood said.

Congress is watching drug companies and the increase in their drug prices closely. 12News reached out to Congressmen Randy Weber and Brian Babin, as well as Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, to find out what they're doing to protect consumers. Click on their names for their responses.

Click here for a database of 100 generic and brand-name drugs that shot up in price over the past few years.

(© 2016 KBMT)


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